This excellent AP story by Libby Quaid and Donna Blankinship about the Gates Foundation’s huge influence on education policy made me even more concerned that many (though not all) reporters tell me how hard it is to get foundation staff to call them back. Today I spoke with Chris Williams, the Gates media officer handling K-12 education. (He returned my call the day I placed it.)
Chris said that there are only two people answering media calls for the U.S. program: he and Marie Groark, who handles higher ed. They are both also program officers. Therefore, busy. Chris said that he’s probably not going to call you back if your deadline is a couple weeks away. You may have to try three or four times before he responds. The foundation has a policy of never commenting on grants that have not yet been approved, and, Chris said, “lots of the queries that come to us are better answered by our grantees. They’re the ones on the ground doing the work.”
Journalists have told me district officials are often fearful of discussing their Gates grants. And a few reporters say they have had such trouble reaching the foundation that they have given up trying. It shouldn’t be that hard, but with $200 million a year at stake—not to mention an important role in helping states win the Race to the Top billions—it shouldn’t stop anyone, either.
Chris is at email@example.com or 206-709-3317 (office) or 206-295-6013 (cell). Marie is at firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-709-3299. On issues regarding Washington state, libraries and community grant-making, call the communications media line at 206-709-3400.
Full disclosure: EWA receives some funding from the Gates Foundation, and Marie is one of our board members.